The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

How Worried Should We Be about White Nationalists in the Military?

((Jonathan Ernst/Reuters))

Making the click-through worthwhile: why Green New Deal advocates deny themselves the pleasure of nuclear power; a look at how worried we should be about white nationalists in the ranks of the U.S. military; and an IRS employee with a political agenda violates the law — again.

Why the Green New Deal Fans Are Afraid of Nuclear Power

Sometime today I’m scheduled to talk to CNN for an upcoming segment on the Green New Deal. (Amazing what happens when you read the specifics and compare all of the different versions.) One point I didn’t get into much, and may discuss further if I have time, is GND advocates’ opposition to nuclear power.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, today there are 60 commercially operating nuclear-power plants with 98 nuclear reactors in 30 states. Two more are under construction in Georgia. The U.S. has 34 “retired” or shut-down reactors.

As of last year, there are about 450 nuclear power reactors operating around the world; as of this month, the world’s reactors can say they’ve been operating more than 17,000 reactor years of experience. Most days you never hear anything about them, because they’re doing what they’re supposed to do: generate power, safely and efficiently, with no direct carbon emissions.

But nuclear power still scares a lot of people, because most people only know the names of three nuclear power plants: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

Three Mile Island forever tainted the image of nuclear power in the United States; no new plants were opened for 30 years after the accident. As the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission summarizes:

In the months following the accident, although questions were raised about possible adverse effects from radiation on human, animal, and plant life in the TMI area, none could be directly correlated to the accident. Thousands of environmental samples of air, water, milk, vegetation, soil, and foodstuffs were collected by various government agencies monitoring the area. Very low levels of radionuclides could be attributed to releases from the accident. However, comprehensive investigations and assessments by several well-respected organizations, such as Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh, have concluded that in spite of serious damage to the reactor, the actual release had negligible effects on the physical health of individuals or the environment.

No one died at the plant or in the surrounding area; for many years conservatives offered the dark joke, “More people died because of Ted Kennedy’s car than because of Three Mile Island.” But in 2017, a Penn State study contended that there was a correlation between subsequent thyroid cancer rates in the surrounding area and the radiation leak. The research of 44 thyroid cancer patients born in counties around the plant, and present in the area during the leak, “developed thyroid cancer on average five to 30 years after exposure and about 11 years earlier than the average thyroid cancer case.”

Chernobyl can best be summarized as the Soviets bringing their trademark cronyism, ignorant and incompetent management, inadequate funding, fanatical secrecy, and cheap and flawed designs to nuclear power, complete with a safety measures that made everything more dangerous, and inexperienced backup operators.

Fukushima was built to handle earthquakes and tsunamis, but not one as powerful as the March 2011 9.1 magnitude earthquake, the fourth-most powerful earthquake ever recorded, and powerful enough to alter the earth’s axis. The resulting tsunami was 43 to 49 feet high; the plant had a 19-foot seawall. The epicenter was about 30 miles away from the nuclear plants.

That’s three serious problems — two we can accurately label mass-scale disasters — out of several hundred plants operating for many decades. The truth is that nuclear power is safe, as long as the plants are properly designed, operators are well-trained and competent, the right procedures are followed, and the plant isn’t close to the epicenter of one of the worst earthquakes in human history.

The great irony is that if you’re worried about carbon emissions, nuclear power is your best friend. “In 2017, the U.S. nuclear industry avoided 547.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions — providing more low-carbon electricity than solar and wind power combined.”

The Green New Deal projects eliminating coal, natural gas, liquified natural gas, oil, and nuclear power within ten years; that adds up to about 88 percent of our current energy production. Anyone who knows anything about our current energy production and usage finds that spectacularly unrealistic, and this is what spurs the snarky dismissals of the plan being “rainbows and unicorns.” But nuclear power is currently about 9 percent of our energy production, and that it’s realistic to envision that sector’s share of our production rising, replacing other sources of energy that produce carbon. (The Tennessee Valley Authority recently announced plans to close down their coal plants and build new natural gas and possibly small nuclear ones.)

The priorities on the wish list of the Green New Deal are so often contradictory that they’re almost funny. I liked this observation from University of Texas-Austin professor David Spence:

There are more permanent union jobs in a coal plant or a nuclear power plant at the operational stage than there are in a wind or a solar or even a hydro station, modern versions of which are typically operated remotely from the control room with nobody on site. So, we have to think through these various tradeoffs.

You can build more solar panels in the United States instead of importing them from China, but that makes them more expensive. Solyndra cost taxpayers $500 million, when it learned buyers preferred the cheaper Chinese versions than their costlier American-made panels.

How Worried Should We Be About White Nationalists in the Military? 

The news that a U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant was arrested for plotting terror attacks was midlevel news in a busy news week. But if he had successfully executed any one of the many plots he envisioned, we would awaken the next day in a much more frightened, much more divided, much more suspicious country. Externally, he was the kind of man that is ubiquitous in the greater Washington area: “To outward appearances, the 49-year-old lieutenant was a suburban father with a desk job supplying Coast Guard ships, who was glimpsed by neighbors coming and going in uniform or walking his dogs with his wife.”

In October 2017, in the wake of the white-nationalist demonstration and clashes in Charlottesville, the publication Military Times conducted a voluntary, confidential survey of 1,131 active-duty troops. About one in four respondents said they had seen examples of white nationalism among their fellow service members; “42 percent of non-white troops who responded to the survey said they have personally experienced examples of white nationalism in the military, versus about 18 percent of white service members.” Some greeted the survey with headlines like “the military has a serious white nationalist problem.”

Publicly identified cases are, so far, relatively rare.

A few months earlier, former Marine recruiter Dillon Ulysses Hopper was identified as “the leader of white supremacist group Vanguard America,” a group whose members attended the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. (Hopper himself was not at the rally.)

Back in May 2018, Frontline and ProPublica identified three extremists who were, at the time, employed by the Army or Navy. Their story profiled Vasillios Pistolis and named Joshua Beckett, who “trained Atomwaffen members in firearms and hand-to-hand combat last fall, served in the Army from 2011 to 2015, according to service records.” The third was Florida National Guard Brandon Russell, who was sentenced to five years in prison in January 2018 for possession of an unregistered destructive device and improper storage of explosive materials.

The following month, the Daily Beast profiled Erik Sailors of Patriot Front, who was in the Marine Corps reserves at that time.

In September, “a civilian contractor working with the U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan has been fired after video footage posted online this week showed him wearing a white nationalist ‘Kekistan’ flag patch on his helmet.”

These are scary stories; members of our military are trained in combat and deadly force, and likely have access to weapons and explosive materials and dangerous substances. In the worst-case scenario and circumstances, these reprobates could do something unimaginable; we’ve already seen what Timothy McVeigh could do in Oklahoma City.

But it’s also worth remembering that so far, the number of publicly identified members of hate groups that are currently wearing our country’s uniform could not fill a school bus, never mind an auditorium. Obviously, many with white-nationalist, racist, or neo-Nazi views hide them, because membership in an extremist group is a quick route to a court martial. But if neo-Nazis are hiding their views, that’s more or less the point: The military can’t police the thoughts of their recruits, but they can police their statements and actions.

We have nearly 1.3 million men and women in uniform on active duty and about 800,000 in the reserves. We should not be surprised that over time, a small fraction of them will be revealed as horrible people. We should also note that the military is arguably the most integrated organization in the United States. (Getting to this point required a long and messy journey.)

Every member of the military takes an oath:

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

(The oath for members of the National Guard mentions the state constitution as well.)

The overwhelming majority of men and women in the military take that oath extremely seriously and plotting a race war is about as diametrically opposed to that oath as you can get. If you wanted to sow the seeds of white nationalism, hate, division and white supremacy, I suspect you would find military bases and homes to be fairly infertile soil.

ADDENDA: How secure are your tax records when you send them to the Internal Revenue Service?

An Internal Revenue Service employee has been charged with leaking confidential government reports that described financial transactions made by President Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, according to court documents unsealed Thursday.

According to the court documents, unsealed in federal court in San Francisco, Fry is accused of sharing the reports’ contents with Michael Avenatti, a lawyer who rose to national prominence representing adult-film actress Stormy Daniels in litigation arising from her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump more than a decade ago. Cohen pleaded guilty last year to arranging hush-money payments to Daniels and another woman who also alleged an affair with Trump.

In October, the Justice Department charged a senior Treasury Department official with giving a journalist the details of SARs involving financial transactions connected to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and other associates of the president’s.

If you want to undermine the public’s faith in the government, this is what you do.

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